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Economic diplomacy

Published on July 8, 2014
Speech by Pierre Sellal, Secretary-General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Development, at the General Meeting of CCI France International (excerpts)

Paris, June 30, 2014


It’s a great privilege for me to be speaking at the General Meeting of CCI France International (1), whose network both in France and abroad plays an essential role in our country’s economic development and international influence. The Minister is currently in India (30 June-1 July) for initial contacts with the new Indian authorities that emerged from this spring’s elections. This visit to New Delhi and Bombay will also be an opportunity to take stock of the major contracts and meetings planned between French and Indian business leaders. In short, the visit is a very special illustration of economic diplomacy.


Economic diplomacy is one of the priorities of the government and the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development. Admittedly, it’s a dimension that has always been present in our diplomatic activity: as early as 1825, the Ministry created within itself a directorate of commercial affairs. But the Minister wanted to give it extra impetus, for two reasons. Firstly, a simple certainty which no one challenges: without economic and financial recovery, there can be no international influence. Secondly, a firm belief: this economic recovery involves France being able to tap into the economic growth existing elsewhere in the world: today, 90% of global growth is occurring outside Europe, a third of it in China.

And in order to tap into that growth, export market share must be won, foreign investment attracted, France’s attractiveness strengthened comprehensively, its image – Brand France – promoted in the world and, finally, the interests of our country and its businesses asserted, championed and promoted, in both European and international negotiations.

Global action, then, and therefore action in many forms; first of all, this requirement involves the state and its network abroad.

The first expression of this resolve is a new title for the Quai d’Orsay, which has become the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Development, bringing together all external action under its umbrella.

There’s also a desire to organize the most effective coordination between all the state services in charge of external economic action, in a threefold spirit of complementarity, transparency and efficiency. It’s about making the economic imperative, and the imperative of support for exports, the first mission entrusted to our ambassadors in their action plans. Finally, it’s an instruction given to our embassies, our consulates, all their departments and all state operators to seek every fruitful area of cooperation between the different facets of external action: political, economic, cultural, support for innovation, tourism etc.

In fact, it’s not about economic diplomacy on the one hand and cultural or political diplomacy on the other. Our external action must be a combination of every means of intervention, and the role of the Foreign Ministry and the ambassadors is to ensure everyone is involved in their effective coordination, in the service of France and its development. (…)

In our embassies, economic councils have now been established. They bring together public and private stakeholders to exchange views on the local market situation, the difficulties or successes companies encounter, and the strategies used by the other countries competing with us in those markets. They also follow bilateral or multilateral trade negotiations and must understand how the debate is evolving in our partner countries and better identify our offensive and defensive interests in the negotiation. The councils identify promising industries and sectors with a view to improving the collective effort, and a great deal has been done on agrifoods, for example. The councils’ role is to better coordinate activities promoting French companies and France as a destination, and other initiatives capable of contributing to this. The record of the 98 economic councils established to date is promising. (…)
We’ve also sought to bring together all our policies for the benefit of economic diplomacy and, more broadly, the country’s attractiveness. To this end we’ve created a new tool, influence councils, and sought to identify and develop any fruitful cooperation that can arise from the combination of those different policies.

Each embassy has been instructed to establish an influence council bringing together the embassy’s different departments for cultural, scientific and educational activity, academic cooperation and economic promotion. (…)


Visa policy has long been dominated by one central and admittedly legitimate concern: control over access to our territory. But it also represents a very important challenge in terms of attractiveness, particularly in facilitating the issuing of visas to certain categories – businessmen, students, researchers, tourists – and, for certain target countries presenting no significant migratory or security risks, in seeking to establish visa exemptions.

This reflexion arose from a simple observation made by Laurent Fabius: 1.5 million Chinese people currently visit France every year and spend an average of €1,600. Within a few years, some 200 million Chinese people will travel. If five or six million of them stay in France – i.e. three or four times more than today – we’ll have reduced our trade deficit by 10%.

To contribute to this goal, the Minister, in agreement with the Interior Minister, has set a simple target: for Chinese people to be able to obtain their visas for France – particularly tourist and business visas – in 48 hours. In the first month of this measure’s implementation, February 2014, the number of visas issued increased by 48% compared to February 2013. And the results since then have been even more spectacular, because increases have been seen of between 30% and 250% in the number of visas delivered.

As Laurent Fabius announced at the close of the tourism conference on 19 June, this mechanism will soon be extended to India, South Africa and certain Gulf countries. (…)


Second example: culture, where fruitful areas of cooperation between the French cultural offer and the promotion of our economy are really flourishing, through the events we organize or the direct support we can provide to our cultural and creative industries.

In 2013 it was estimated that more than 1,300 bilateral cultural projects conducted by our network had economic repercussions. A flagship example of this is “Le French May”, a festival of cultural events in Hong Kong, which accounts for our second-largest trade surplus in the world; it was inaugurated this year by Laurent Fabius. (…)

We’re also seeking to establish the most effective means of support for the cultural and creative industries, which represent between 5% and 10% of our exports, in order to bolster their international profile and strategies.


Third example: sport.

Our embassies have been asked to play an active role in relation to major events that represent tremendous economic opportunities. Among others, I’ll mention the “French Team for Sport” which our embassy in Doha has created in the run-up to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. (…)
In Tokyo, our embassy and the French Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Japan are stepping up the number of initiatives in the run-up to the 2019 Rugby World Cup and, above all, the 2020 Olympic Games.


In the field of innovation, the challenge is to envisage projects capable of both showcasing national capabilities and tapping into foreign talent and good practice. Two of the first examples are the French Touch Festival – which finished in New York only last week and aimed to promote French innovation, particularly in the digital economy – and the Franco-Swiss innovation forum, established with our embassy’s support and whose second edition, devoted to the energy transition, has just been held in Lyon.

Our goal is also to update ways of cooperating to encourage exchanges, with “innovation” counsellors being seconded to clusters in Germany, the United States and Israel, enabling us to identify good practice abroad and facilitate cross-fertilization with our competitiveness clusters. Moreover, our programme of scholarships is now targeted at countries with strong potential and in disciplines reflecting our economic interests: I’ll cite the Eiffel and Major scholarship programmes and “Quai d’Orsay Entreprises”, co-funded by the Ministry and certain companies (Total, GDF Suez) to provide training in France for their colleagues.


Final example: tourism, whose development is now one of the Foreign Ministry’s responsibilities.

There are two reasons for this. Today there are a billion tourists in the world, 83 million of whom visit France, bringing in revenue that accounts for some 7% of our GDP. But by 2030 the number of tourists should double, reaching two billion. France’s whole challenge will be to continue enjoying – even more than today – this tremendous potential source of growth. The second reason is because in addition to the actions and investments beneficial to tourism to be undertaken in France itself, and the measures to be avoided, our embassies must get heavily involved in this ambition through a subtler analysis of tourists’ expectations of France as a destination, through the incorporation of tourism into “cross-cultural seasons” and through more targeted promotion campaigns in third countries, with the support of everyone, particularly the French Chambers of Commerce and Industry abroad. (…)


CCI France International plays a key role, with its 113 chambers and the network of 32,000 voluntary member companies they oversee in 83 countries. Our embassies and their departments have for a long time been forging a very dynamic relationship with the consular network.
This partnership is traditional and fruitful. I’m thinking in particular of the effective contributions made by the CCIFs abroad, most often in the framework of local consular committees, reflecting the vitality of the French business community abroad, and its structure, and the support given to French nationals abroad, particularly when they’re looking for work.

This partnership has been deepened recently, with your chambers welcoming around 10 international volunteers (VIA) (2), who are strengthening our economic strategy in the countries where it is undersized in relation to the level of trade and, above all, the development potential of the trade. This strategy has gradually been put in place since 2013, for example in Ecuador, Costa Rica, New Zealand, Cambodia and Nigeria. I want to thank the CCIFs which have taken these volunteers under their wing. (…)

With their local foothold, the chambers are indeed best placed to know and tell us about the local economy, what the business community expects from our country, the most effective ways of supporting our companies in each set of circumstances, and the economic sectors offering the strongest potential. (…)

In short, CCIFs are expected to help guide what we do multilaterally, and in Europe particularly.

Over the past few years, globalization has resulted in three major developments: the deregulation of certain – notably financial – activities; the juxtaposition of national standards and laws, producing extraterritorial effects with poor or little coordination; and a drive –resulting from an absence of progress at the WTO in particular – to structure world trade through networks of agreements with third countries and between the big regional groups.


Faced with these developments, the European Union’s role is more crucial than ever. It is helping, through the integration of the internal market and its constituent economies, to enhance the attractiveness of the EU and its member states, from which France, at the crossroads of Europe, benefits first and foremost, especially when it comes to encouraging investment. It gives a structure, through the trade policy and the agreements concluded in this framework, to our relations with third countries and the large regional groups. Finally, Europe is an essential standard setter and helps, by disseminating those standards in third countries, support opportunities for our companies to gain access to the market.

What we expect from the EU, and particularly the new institutions being set up over the next few months, is firstly for them to be effective, and effective to serve the interests of Europe and European companies with determination and clear-sightedness, and without naivety.

To this end, we – public authorities, companies and their spokespeople, first and foremost the chambers of commerce and industry – must be the most involved and the most active in framing and implementing European policies. For example, to identify and draw attention to the problems of market access encountered by our companies, and we can highlight these in the trade negotiations, which must be based on genuine reciprocity, or to propose and develop mechanisms and instruments the EU absolutely must create to remain competitive, in terms of research and innovation, industrial policy, energy and climate policy and investment protection.

The European Council of 26 and 27 June has just decided on a few of the EU’s strategic priorities for the next five years. These will have to be fleshed out and clarified over the next few months. (…)./.

(1) Association of French chambers of commerce and industry abroad.

(2) Volontaires internationaux en Administration - a French international corporate placement programme for professionals between the ages of 18 and 28 who are EU nationals. The scheme is aimed at recent graduates from university or higher technical institutes seeking further training in a wide area of projects.

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